Posts Tagged ‘walking’

Thames Path signpostWe’ve been in London for a couple of weeks. The Boy has been to stay on his way back to Europe from Australia and it has been lovely having him here even if it was rather brief (for now). There’ll be another instalment in a couple of months.

Always on the look out for new places to walk Nora, we were going to Richmond Park when I thought I’d stop in Barnes on the way and see if I could find a way down to the river. By ‘the river’ Londoners mean the Thames, although the walk actually begins at an old cemetery, alongside a tributary of the Thames called Beverley Brook which flows through Barnes both above and below ground. Most of London’s rivers were diverted into the sewers in Victorian times and their names, for example, Stamford Brook or the River Fleet, mainly exist as place or street names today.

Overgrown graves

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Nora really loves this walk as there are good woodland smells, open grass and water to splash in.

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For me, as well as the obligatory grungy bit to photograph and some wildlife, the walk’s a lot less challenging than trying to stop Nora from constantly diving into overflowing park bins, which is one of the less pleasant aspects of summer in the city. I am training her to stop scavenging but I wish people would take their rubbish home with them if they’re going to leave a lot of food waste for Nora and the foxes to play with.

Thames Path at Barnes

There’s always something though. This morning we were shouted at by a fat-arsed French lady who said she wasn’t cycling ‘orl zat forst’ when I complained that she almost ran Nora over. But if you have to do an emergency stop on a path where pedestrians have priority, you’re going too fast!

black dog in the grass

Dog on the banks of the Thames

The pictures are experimental as I was testing the Boy’s Nikon and I haven’t really got the hang of it. It has a bit of a wonky lens but I think I like it. It seems to have a good depth of colour and works well in low light on its point-and-shoot setting, which is basically all I have time for with all the other distractions…

Beverley Brook outflow

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Thames Embankment at Putney

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Walking in the woods on Saturday, it seemed to be getting lighter and lighter as we pressed on into the trees, mesmerised by the carpet of bluebells through which we were walking. I realised that we were coming to a large clearing and knew we must have reached a tree felling zone I’ve only seen from the road until now.

We had decided to turn left when we set out from the car park instead of right as most people do. It’s a popular walking spot and I wanted to avoid other people on this busy, sunny morning and hear some birdsong in amongst the trees.

There were no signs to tell us to keep out so I decided to walk along the edge of the felled area before taking up our intended walk again in amongst the broadleaved trees. This was a pine plantation that I’d heard had been compulsorily felled to prevent the spread of Phytophthora ramorum (Sudden Oak Death), a tree disease that, it is feared, may cause as much damage to the English landscape as Dutch Elm Disease did in the 1970s.

Having read up about it since, I’ve worried whether we should have entered the felling zone at all, as the disease can be spread by foot, but as the pines were felled to create a barrier and, in any event, our footwear wasn’t leaving the area and we only walked along the rutted track left by the logging trucks, so I hope no harm has been done.
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The bluebells which are everywhere at this time of year, although not yet fully in bloom, are suddenly exposed on the bare ground in the sunshine. Blooming away as though nothing had happened, they look forlorn among the tree stumps and the deep scars left in the earth by heavy lorry tyres.

Fortunately, there are many, many other woods in this part of Somerset for the squirrels, birds, rabbits and other wildlife who have lost their habitat to move to, as it will take another half a century at least until this place returns to how it was just a year ago. We can only hope this ugly piece of destruction succeeds in preventing something very much worse.

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Frayed around the edges and over-sensitive for no good reason. Always the paradox of wanting to leave one place and be in another, and then the fret about doing it and what I might find when I arrive.

Work over the road going on apace. Winters Barn, sold at the end of last year together with the field it stands in, has been completely pulled down. The field is full of heavy machinery and the radio goes all day. A flock of sheep is grazing and they appear to be charmingly right in amongst all this but they aren’t. Closer inspection reveals an electric fence.

They’ve renamed the place and I disapprove. The old name was good and the new one inappropriate. Like the doubling in size of the cowsheds down the road, these changes make me feel sad. I liked what I’d found here – the remoteness and the dark skies. Now there is orange light on all night in one direction (why, do cows crave streetlight?) and soon there will be people over the road plus the additional traffic all this creates. It’s already a local rat run. You NIMBY incomer, I chastise myself. What makes you the arbiter of how things should be?

Nice things: Sunshine, birdsong, lambs bleating in the distance. Leaf buds bursting everywhere: hazel, beech, hawthorn and rowan. Blackthorn blossom, tiny flowers nestling among brutal thorns. Gorse now fully out and wafting coconut after months of being only half in bloom. Delicate little short-lived wildflowers crouching close to the ground, easily missed. A new fern stalk standing proud of the crushed fronds of last year’s dry remains, unfurling slowly as if stretching after winter’s long sleep.

And lazy, bad-tempered me, who didn’t bother to take a proper camera because it’s only a walk.

a wood tree branches against a blue sky and clouds wild flowers

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Stuck

We’ve been stuck in London for a few weeks. My mother-in-law (or ex-mother-in-law, to be precise but it makes no odds) and two friends from the older generation died within a couple of weeks of each other, so it’s been impossible to get away with one thing and another. Then the Girl finally moved out and I’ve been feeling a bit low as a result of all this.

I do miss the Quantocks very much: our long solitary walks and the ponies on the hills.

Exmoor ponies grazing

And the sense of freedom that comes from the fine, long, uninterrupted views across the countryside.

view across field

To compensate, we have been going to Wimbledon Common in south London a lot and it’s lovely walking there too. It’s enormous and feels quite country-like. There are ponds and lakes and Nora has learned to swim. It’s getting quite hard to keep her out of the water…

dog swimming in pond

Here she is in Richmond Park, another favourite walking spot, on another day.

dog by a lake

We love the woods at Wimbledon.

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There are different kind of woods there. Some mixed deciduous on the hillier ground and one, in a very flat area, is just birch. It has a rather beautiful stillness about it on a cold winter’s day.

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The blackbirds have started singing, and magpies and great tits are collecting nesting materials in the garden. Quince is flowering here and there, and this morning I noticed a little bit of cherry blossom where yesterday there was none.

Dog amongst crocuses

It’s a good thing that Spring is just around the corner.   

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When I first moved here, my neighbours had opened permissive paths and bridleways across their land as part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. We could do a circular walk across their land, over hills and past ponds right from the front door without driving anywhere first. Since then, their old age and the austerity of the last few years have meant that the Council-run scheme ended and the paths fell into disrepair and were closed.

On the positive side, the closure of our most walked local route has meant I’ve been trying to discover new ways across the land nearby. Being a bit more adventurous and going in new directions is always a good thing.

We found a lovely walk the other day through the wood on the brow of the hill that I can see from my kitchen window. I haven’t found a way through the trees to a spot from which I can see the cottage yet, so lots more scope for exploration here.

woodland

labrador retriever

path through woods with dog

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winter sunshine through trees

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Snow was forecast overnight. Drawing the curtains in darkness this morning, the electric outside light revealed a couple of centimetres of snow in the garden. Further afield, particularly uphill, there is a little more, so after a bone-warming bath and breakfast we head up the nearest hill for the dog to experience her first snowfall.

reflected chandelier

Before we can even get there, she goes a bit crazy in the garden but not at the snow, which she takes in her stride. It’s the frozen pond that freaks her out as she desperately tries to eat the incomplete sheet of ice covering it. “What’s this? Why can’t I pull it out? It’s so heavy. And COLD. I’ll zoom around like a lunatic because this is blowing my mind!”

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The snow reveals all kinds of things I don’t normally see: footprints of birds and deer that have passed only a short while before, branches that arch above my head pointing at vaulted structures of deadwood and ivy. A new beauty. It also hides uneven ground, deep mud, drifts of leaves that trip me up, cowpats that squelch over my boots as they get sucked into the ground beneath. I forgive them all.

snowy gate

dog in snowy wood

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snow covered old tractor

thawing snow

view from hills

Back home now. Holed up, hunkered down, behind battened hatches, I listen to the wind whooming down the chimney. That is the noise that it makes. The fire finally decides to stop smoking and I relax and curl up on the sofa with a book, a cup of tea, thick socks, a blanket and a sleeping dog. Bliss.

cottage in the snow

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tree in sunshinefrosty leavesthawing frosty leavesdry oak treetiny hazel catkins

black labrador

dog drinking from trough

We woke to a freezing house this morning because I hadn’t set the heating properly but the brightening landscape, clear blue sky and frosty ground soon resolved my annoyance.

Then Nora and I headed out up the hill for our morning walk. Unsually, we met my neighbour Suzie and her spaniels and Nora was delighted to play with them for a while. One of the things about country walks is that while people say hello more than in town, dogs don’t stop to play and people often apologise about their dogs sniffing yours, which is strange if you’re used to town dog behaviour. Single dogs are unusual – because they need the company I suppose.

Then I went off to get a Christmas tree from farmer John Hardwick at Cobbs Cross Farm just down the road. I could hardly get up the lane to the farm for people coming the other way down the narrow road. Looks like they’re doing well. I wrote about them in more detail a couple of years ago but they’ve got much more going on now. Someone there has definitely got an eye for an opportunity.

I was supposed to go Christmas shopping in Taunton – there was free parking but with the weather so lovely, I did some pruning instead and made a wreath for the front door with some of the results. It ‘s pretty ropey (you try making wreath with your dog running off with everything you put down for more than a second) and probably won’t last very long in this windy spot but at least it’s unique in its combination of bay leaves, heather and a few other bits and pieces. There’s even a tiny bit of holly.

Quite pretty, I think.

wreath on front door

 

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